Behind the Zion Curtain, there are two-stepping unicorns , cowboys twirling rocks glasses on pistols, and Utah’s best bartenders preparing craft cocktails with care and panache unseen to restaurant patrons.
Well, at least one of those is true, but you'd never know because you, as a customer, can't see behind the Zion Curtain.
A law set forth in 2011 mandates restaurants that do not operate with a liquor license—but rather a restaurant license—must prepare drinks in a back room or behind opaque walls, known as Zion Curtains.
Some lawmakers believe that the Zion Curtain protects impressionable folks by keeping booze out of sight (Soapbox: Pretending that something doesn’t exist is never the best way to promote responsible behavior). What customers miss is the dance, the craft and a level of care that could be a gateway to thoughtful and artisanal food ways.
Bartenders like Scott Gardner (pictured above) continue to hone their craft with years of study, travel and practice. This is not a shot-and-a-beer drinking. The cocktail and its elements are essential to fine dining.
Salt Lake City’s drink scene is coming of age as part of a nation-wide revival of turn-of-the-century craft cocktails (with interesting bitters, house-made infused syrups and reductions and muddled, local fruits). Salt Lake City’s newest cutting-edge restaurants, like Pallet, Finca and Copper Onion (subsequently some of the ones offering the best cocktail programs) must comply with the Zion Curtain law.
The law had been put in place prior to 2009, but in that year it was struck down; restaurants who opened during the period between 2009 and 2011 were grandfathered into the new law and are currently exempt from Zion Curtains. Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden has led the charge to get rid of the law for the past few years, to little avail. Obviously, it's a complicated issue.
Customers, and even bartenders, are getting shortchanged here. Such is the state of Utah’s, shall we say unique, liquor laws.
Note: Several restaurants declined to be photographed because of fear of how the DABC might react. Also, special thanks to City Weekly news reporter Eric S. Peterson for background information on the Zion Curtain laws.
New post coming soon: Utah's Best Cocktails (pictures and recipes)
Watch bartender Scott Gardner prepare a Finca Grog #1 and a Tamarindo Fino behind the Zion Curtain.
Photographer and award-winning journalist Austen Diamond specializes in creative portraiture, commercial photography and editorial photojournalism. For booking inquiries and to view his portfolio, go to www.AustenDiamond.com.